Candide is a French satire that was first published by Voltaire in 1759. By and large, the book speaks volumes on the absurdity of the society at the time. Additionally, being a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment, the author dwells on the folly of philosophical speculation in unprecedented measure. The Norton Critical Edition of the book, therefore, provides a better understanding of the issues that Voltaire engages in the book.
The Folly of Optimism
Among the fundamental issues that are explored in the book is the folly of optimism. This is evident in the discussion that takes place between Pangloss and Candide, his student, whereby there are simplified versions of a number of philosophies. As a matter of fact, these thinkers support the idea that God, being perfect, must also have created a perfect world. In regard to this fact, people’s perceptions on imperfections of the world are the results of not having a clear understanding of God’s grand plan. However, Voltaire rejects the idea of a perfect God existence. He, thus, ridicules the notion of a completely good world.
Apparently, Pangloss and Candide, both optimists, suffer and go through a myriad of horrors that include unfair executions, rapes, robberies, earthquakes and diseases. The key issue here is that these events do not serve any greater good, instead they point to the brutality and foolishness of humanity as well as the apathy of the natural world. Although Pangloss struggles to justify the horrific happenings in the world, his points of view seem to border with absurdity. Finally, Pangloss admits that his previous buoyant conclusions were baseless.
The Futility of Philosophical Speculation
The additional scholarship, included in the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, also highlights the futility of philosophical speculation as being one of the key issues that Voltaire engages in Candide. This is evident due to the fact that Pangloss’s optimism is built on the basis of philosophical points of view rather than real-world substantiation. As a result, the philosophical speculations time after time prove to be futile and even destructive. This even prevents characters from making realistic assessments of the world around them.
Additionally, they are also unable to carry out constructive measures when seeking to change undesirable conditions. The most vulnerable character in this kind of folly is Pangloss. For instance, he prevents Candide from saving the drowning of Jacques by proving that the bay of Lisbon was particularly formed for the Anabaptist to drown in.
This is also witnessed when he ignored Candide’s requests for oil and wine while under the rubble, after the Lisbon earthquake. Instead, Pangloss struggles to establish the causes of the earthquake. As the novel comes to a close, Candide is seen rejecting Pangloss’s philosophies for an ethic of hard realistic work. Finally, without wasting any time in leisure or redundant speculation, Candide and the other characters find happiness that has eluded them for a long time.
The Hypocrisy of Religion
Throughout the novel, Voltaire is seen satirizing some kind of structured religion through a string of dishonest religious leaders. At some point, the Pope is seen to have fathered a daughter, yet as a Catholic priest; he ought to have been celibate. Additionally, a hard-line Catholic Inquisitor also deceitfully has a mistress. Again, in spite if the vow of paucity taken by members of the Franciscan order, a Franciscan friar is seen working as a jewel thief. Voltaire also brings into focus a Jesuit colonel with noticeable homosexual inclinations.
All over the book, there are numerous instances of hypocrisy and immorality among the religious leaders. He however falls short of reproving the everyday religious believes. For instance, Jacques, a member of Anabaptists, a radical Protestant sect, is possibly the most munificent and benevolent character in the novel.
The Demeaning Power of Money
The demeaning power of money is also witnessed in the book. This happens especially when Candide obtains wealth in Eldorado. Though it seems like his worst problems might, as well, be over, it is however not the case. This is because his optimism is tested even when he watches his money go down the drain in the hands of corrupt merchants and bureaucrats.
As a matter of fact, his optimism hits rock bottom especially after he is cheated by Vanderdendur. Eventually, Candide decides to make Martin, a sworn pessimist, his itinerant companion. Furthermore, his money seems to be drawing spurious friends. Consequently, Candide is unhappy in spite of the wealth at his disposal. Apparently, the money, he gives to Brother Giroflee and Paquette, quickly drives them to the ultimate stages of wretchedness. Eventually, the book asserts to the fact that as much as oppression and paucity plaques the underprivileged and the feeble, it is clear that money creates as many problems as it solves.
Religious and Political Oppression
In the book, there are horrors of oppression that are executed by authorities of various churches and states, against the populace. This is evident when Catholic authorities are witnessed burning heretics alive, with priests and governors extorting sexual favors from their female. Businessmen are also witnessed mistreating slaves. Such atrocity is again witnessed when the English government, though admired by Voltaire, executes an admiral just because he did not fight with enough courage against the French.
Over and above, the author articulates his dislike for the norms and ideas that corrupted the society of his time. His defiant views also come to the fore through the veil of humor and imagination. On the whole, vices like corruption, oppression, sexual exploitation as well as religious hypocrisy are condemned.